Will the Ravens Finally Adjust Their Approach To Defending Mahomes?

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY Sports)

This Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs travel to Baltimore to face off against another AFC contender. The game will bring another round of “Can Lamar Jackson finally beat Patrick Mahomes?” storylines. However, those headlines have become misleading and unfair to Jackson, mostly because the Baltimore Ravens’ coaching staff has routinely put their team in tough-to-win situations every time they face the back-to-back AFC champs. Baltimore’s 0-3 record against the Chiefs has less to do with Jackson’s shortcoming as an NFL quarterback and more to do with their coaching staff.

It seems there are two basic philosophies when it comes to game-planning in the NFL: Either you adjust your style based on the opposition or continue to play to your strengths. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Martindale tend to prefer the latter when scheming their defense.

Last season continued a long-standing trend with Baltimore’s defensive tactics, finishing the 2020 campaign with the highest blitz rate in the NFL at 45.3% (per Next Gen Stats). Mahomes entered last season with eye-popping numbers against the blitz, and many teams adjusted by, well, simply not blitzing. Everyone except the Ravens, that is. In their Week 3 matchup, Baltimore blitzed on 49% of Kansas City’s passing plays – 49%! While the rest of the NFL decided to wave the white flag on attempting to blitz Mahomes, the Ravens looked at their season average of 45.3% and decided that wasn’t enough.

They paid dearly for it. Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense torched the Ravens that Monday night in front of a national TV audience. Mahomes finished 19-of-23 passing against the blitz, with 250 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-20 victory. Most fanbases would be thrilled with such a stat line for an entire game, let alone for just 49% of a quarterback’s dropbacks.

The question is, has the Ravens’ coaching staff learned their lesson?

Since that loss to Kansas City last season, the Ravens haven’t exactly improved upon their four-man pass rush. They no longer have their two leading pass rushers entering last season because Yannick Ngakoue signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, and Matthew Judon departed via free agency this past summer.

Their replacements? This summer, they signed former Kansas City great Justin Houston. While he can provide some impact in the pass rush, he is well past his prime. They also drafted Odafe Oweh with their first-round pick this year – the exact pick the Chiefs traded to Baltimore for Pro Bowl starting left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. However, Oweh is seen more as a project since he accumulated a total of zero sacks in his final season at Penn State.

With the lack of additional pass rush on the defensive line, how does Harbaugh plan to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season? If Week 1 was any indication, it’s to keep doing what he knows best — blitz like crazy. The Ravens fell to Las Vegas in overtime on Monday night, and the game’s final play could be an indicator of what is to come if the Ravens don’t adjust before their second of back-to-back primetime games this upcoming Sunday night.

With 3:38 remaining in the overtime, following a myriad of absolutely bonkers back-and-forth action without a score, Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr had the ball on second-and-14 at Baltimore’s 31-yard line. As the Raiders approached the line of scrimmage, Baltimore showed a Cover-0 blitz formation, leaving all cornerbacks matched up in man coverage with absolutely zero help behind them. In true Harbaugh fashion, he showed his best hand and dared the Raiders to beat it.

And that’s just what happened. Following the snap, Baltimore sent the house. Carr dropped back and, in Mahomes-esque form, drifted to his right ever so slightly to allow his receivers more time to get open, lofting a pass to a wide-open Zay Jones for the walk-off score.

If Baltimore continues to blitz the Chiefs relentlessly on Sunday, it could be a long day for their defense. Kansas City hopes they will. Harbaugh and the Ravens will need to learn their lesson this time around to resist falling to 0-4 against the Chiefs the past three seasons.

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